EDITOR’S NOTE: I don’t think it’s just me – I don’t think I was asleep at the wheel – but the fact is, I had very little knowledge about BAE Systems building a regional maintenance hub for F-35s at Newcastle airport – and, after reading the press release (below) ostensibly about the official opening, yesterday, I’m still not much wiser. Unlike the well-publicised engine-maintenance facility in Ipswich, Queensland, I don’t recall receiving any specific information about this major and significant facility at Williamtown. Then again, given that the press release below is so mired in political hijackery, is it any wonder…
The first F-35A aircraft has been inducted into the BAE Systems Australia’s (BAESA) maintenance depot as part of the next major milestone in the Joint Strike Fighter Program.
CAPTION: Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds and Minister for Defence Industry Melissa Price watch an F-35A handling display during the official opening of BAESA maintenance depot at Newcastle Airport – an event not mentioned in the official press release. Photo by Corporal Craig Barrett.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the RAAF F-35A fleet was now 33 strong and ready to deploy on operations.
“This is about protecting and securing Australia’s interests but it’s also creating jobs and driving investment right here in the Hunter and across the country too,” the Prime Minister said.
“This induction demonstrates the world leading capability of our local defence industry here in Australia.
“We want to give as many opportunities to Australian companies as possible which is why there’s already more than 50 local companies sharing in $2.7 billion worth of contracts as part of the F-35 Program.
“As we recover from the COVID recession a key plank of our Economic Recovery Plan is our $270 billion investment in Defence capability over the next decade and our $65 billion commitment in air capabilities which includes the Joint Strike Fighter Program. This investment is keeping Australians safe and secure while creating more jobs and more opportunities for businesses.”
After being selected as the maintenance, repair, overhaul and upgrade depot for the Southeast Asia region, the BAESA facility will host Australian F-35A aircraft and in future other nations’ F-35 aircraft.
The program is progressing on budget and on schedule and the aircraft is undergoing routine structural modifications to improve the airframe, ensuring it reaches full life, and align it with newer aircraft.
Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds said up to four Australian F-35A aircraft were expected to undergo routine maintenance at BAESA’s facility this year, demonstrating the significant boost the program was having on the local Hunter economy.
“The Morrison Government is unashamedly committed to building a robust sovereign defence industry,” Minister Reynolds said.
“We are building our sovereign defence capabilities. We now have 41 fully trained RAAF pilots, nine of whom trained on home soil at RAAF Base Williamtown. We also have more than 225 trained technicians as the RAAF’s F-35A maintenance capability continues to develop.”
This progress is being supported through the sovereign Training Support Services contract awarded to Lockheed Martin Australia, worth approximately $70 million. It will see more than 70 personnel employed at RAAF Base Williamtown and RAAF Base Tindal.
“This demonstrates the extraordinary opportunities this program is providing for Australians and the economy, especially as it continues to bounce back from COVID-19,” Minister Reynolds said.
Minister for Defence Industry Melissa Price said the program had helped the people of the Hunter region weather the impact of the economic impact of the pandemic.
“In 2020, job losses in the aeronautics industry due to COVID-19 resulted in the closure of Jetstar’s aircraft maintenance facility here in Newcastle, and many other regional facilities,” Minister Price said.
“BAESA recently hired 25 former Jetstar employees who had been made redundant as a result of the pandemic.
“Not only have these technical workers been retained in the local Hunter aviation industry, but they will also help Defence build its sovereign sustainment capability as the fleet continues to grow.”.